While it’s true that companies must constantly innovate in order to stay viable and maintain market share, it’s also true that not every idea that comes out of corporate research and development departments will be a huge success.
Of course, the pressure to stay on top is huge, and coming up with innovative ideas that people will embrace isn’t easy, as illustrated by the countless number of market miscalculations and abject product failures developed by some of the biggest and most respected brands in the world.
How many of these misguided products — most with mercifully short shelf-lives — do you remember?
The Lesson Learned: I can almost forgive the person who came up with this idea. I said “almost.” After all, who doesn’t sneak a taste or six of baby-jar applesauce, custard, or mashed bananas when they spoon-feed their kids? I know I did. Even so, that doesn’t mean us grown-ups want to eat adult-sized portions of pureed Mediterranean Vegetables or pulverized beef Burgundy.
Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancake-Wrapped Sausage on a Stick
Launch Date: 2006
The Not-So-Bright Idea: For those who like their breakfast on the run, microwaveable chocolate chip pancakes and sausage. On a stick.
The Lesson Learned: Apparently, somebody in the Jimmy Dean marketing department read one too many Popular Mechanics articles. This embarrassing failure just goes to show that even though we have the technology to marry chocolate chip pancakes with sausage and put it on a stick, it doesn’t mean the resulting product will sell like, well, if you’ll pardon the expression … hotcakes.
Heinz Easy-Squirt Ketchup
The Lesson Learned: Heinz decided to cater to kids who love to play with food by offering their popular ketchup brand in multiple hues including green, purple, and blue. The gambit was wildly successful the first couple years. At the end of the day, however, most people still like to see red ketchup on their hot dogs, so the fad eventually died out. The last bottles of off-color ketchup were pulled from store shelves in 2006.
Ore-Ida Funky Fries
The Lesson Learned: Hoping to capitalize on the initial colored-ketchup craze, Ore-Ida invented French fries with a twist: Now kids could really gross out their parents by dipping cinnamon-, chocolate- and sour cream-flavored or blue-colored spuds into their purple ketchup! Unfortunately for Ore-Ida, it’s Mom and Dad who do the grocery shopping — and they tend to prefer their fries golden brown and seasoned with salt. So it’s no wonder that Funky Fries were discontinued after only one year.
Frito Lay’s WOW Potato Chips
The Lesson Learned: The idea of a healthy fat-free potato chips seemed like a no-brainer at the time. In fact, Frito-Lay’s Wow chips ended 1998 as the year’s top-selling new product in the US. However, reports quickly spread of people getting stomach cramps and diarrhea from the olestra-laden chips — so many that the FDA eventually required a warning label on every bag of Wow chips. Talk about a sales killer.
The Lesson Learned: After nearly 100 years of market domination, Coca-Cola executives decided to switch over to a new formula after blind cola taste tests conducted in the 70s and 80s suggested that more people preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coke. Bad move. The resulting switchover to the new formula was an immediate flop — despite Coca-Cola’s own research that showed New Coke was preferred over Pepsi and classic Coke. Within three months, Coke had announced the return of Coke Classic.
The Lesson Learned: Believe it or not, Coke doesn’t have a monopoly on dumb cola ideas. Why would anyone bother drinking a cup of coffee, Pepsi executives asked, if they could start their day with a nice, refreshing can of carbonated cola that has 25 percent more caffeine? Well, because carbonated colas don’t go well with oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, eggs or cereal. That’s why.
Colgate Kitchen Entrees
The Lesson Learned: When they work, brand extensions can be highly successful. For example, Arm & Hammer was able to successfully leverage its baking soda brand into oral and laundry care products. Sometimes, though, brand extension attempts can go horribly wrong — like Colgate’s ill-advised brief foray into frozen food. I know. After all, who wants to associate spearmint toothpaste with their Swedish meatballs?
Coors Rocky Mountain Bottled Spring Water
The Lesson Learned: Another example of brand extension gone awry was when Coors tried to cash in on the bottled water boom. On first blush, the decision to sell water from refreshing Rocky Mountain springs seemed like a logical plan with the potential for big profits, but it was not to be. Legend has it that the Coors label on the bottle only managed to confuse the public. Whatever the reason, sales languished and Coors’ bottled water experiment ended quickly.
Maxwell House Ready-to-Drink Coffee
Launch Date: 1990
The Not-So-Bright Idea: Create a convenient new way for consumers to enjoy piping hot coffee.
The Lesson Learned: Maxwell House executives assumed that coffee drinkers would find it easier to pour this refrigerated ready-brewed coffee into a mug and then heat it up in a microwave, than to pour an already piping-hot cup of joe direct from the coffeemaker. Consumers begged to differ and refused to buy their product. Ironically, this ready-brewed java may have been a wild success if only Maxwell House had marketed it specifically for people who enjoy their coffee cold, but hate having it diluted by melting ice.
It all seems so obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?